Types of leather: A general overview of splits and hides
Here is an overview of some different types of leather often available to help you shop. Each kind has different properties. Some of the variation occurs because of the animal that the hide has been taken from, sometimes it is the split of leather and sometimes it is the processes involved that make the difference.
Thick hides from cows or pigs might be split into two or more layers at the tannery. The very top layer has the “grain” or what used to be the skin of the animal. Pore marks where the hair was growing can be seen. This is sold as “top grain” leather. There are two varieties of this leather, however. Full grain leather has all the grain and natural surface. If imperfections such as scars, scrapes and cow brands are sanded out of this top hide it may be sold as top grain, but not as full grain. The bottom layers of the split leather are called genuine leather and are usually tougher than cloth, but less strong than the top layer of hides.
Full grain leather with a soft hand can be made into napa (nappa) leather, regardless of whether this hide comes from sheepskin, lambskin or pigskin. Nubuck is another kind of top grain leather; it is sanded or buffed on the grain side to give a velvet texture. The top split of pig leather is very thin, lightweight and strong. Top grain leather is usually finished with dyes that do not coat or close up the pores and is then called aniline leather. This leather is prized for the beauty of the grain showing through.
The bottom splits of the leather can be sanded to produce suede, which has a soft nubby feel. Bottom splits may receive a polymer coating which imparts pigments, greater water resistance and stain protection. An artificial grain or other embossing could be applied and it is sold as split leather.
Fox hides are thinner than most other leathers and often the long hair is left attached. It is a warm fur and wears well over time but does need regular cleaning to remain fluffy and keep the skin supple. Marten pelts have less lofty fur than fox but are very soft, luxurious, lightweight and warm. Beaver hides are thicker and do well even with rough handling. With budget and function in mind, happy shopping!